- The Washington Times - Monday, April 26, 2004

Pro-life teenagers say they refuse to let their voices go unheard, and today they’ll let their T-shirts do the talking.Today is the second annual Rock for Life National Pro-Life T-Shirt Day (NPLTD), and the group said it expects tens of thousands of teenagers to wear T-shirts defending the rights of unborn children.

NPLTD was established in response to “repeated acts of violence, bigotry and discrimination against students wearing pro-life T-shirts to school,” said officials of Rock for Life, a division of Stafford, Va.-based American Life League (ALL).

Rock for Life’s shirts feature blunt messages for young people: “Abortion Is Mean” or “Abortion Is Homicide” on the front, and the group’s motto on the back: “You will not silence my message. You will not mock my God. You will stop killing my generation.”

Those messages have repeatedly put pro-life youth in conflict with school officials. In November 2002, a student wearing an “Abortion Is Homicide” shirt to Abington Junior High School in Abington, Pa., was told by the principal that his shirt was “inappropriate for display at school and equated the message on the shirt with a swastika,” say Rock for Life officials.

In the Cleveland suburb of Chardon, Ohio, a student wearing the group’s “Abortion Is Homicide” shirt was also told by his principal not to wear the shirt at Chardon High School because a girl had complained it was obscene. When 17-year-old Bill Noyes refused, he was subjected to disciplinary detention. He decided to fight back.

“I was brought up to respect authority, but also to stand up for myself. My rights were getting violated, so I had to take a stand,” he later told Citizen magazine.

Extensive local media coverage of the Chardon case eventually led to the school rescinding Bill’s punishment.

The Thomas More Law Center, a Christian public-interest law firm that has helped Rock for Life defend students’ right to wear pro-life shirts to school, said it has handled about 30 such cases around the country in the past year.

“This is about the free-speech rights of pro-life students to non-disruptively spread their message in school,” said Edward White III, associate counsel of the center. “There is a bias against the pro-life, Christian position,” he said.

“In all the cases we handle, other students are able to wear various messages on their shirts from advertising Marilyn Manson, rock bands and drug use to Playboy bunnies, and those students are never told to stop wearing their shirts,” Mr. White said.

Mr. White believes that Christian students are targeted because “they are usually the types of kids who follow the rules and orders of school officials and won’t put up a fight. … You can more likely to ask them to do something without reprisal.”

The legal defense of the pro-life T-shirt message in schools is based on a famous Vietnam War-era Supreme Court decision.

The 1969 Tinker case involved pacifist students who wore black armbands to public schools in Des Moines, Iowa, to protest U.S. military actions in Vietnam. The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The court ruled that in order to deny a student’s free-speech rights, the school “must be able to show that its action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.”

NPLTD, said Rock for Life, is a day when “pro-life students nationwide, speaking in one voice, can exercise their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech in defense of the sanctity and intrinsic dignity of all human life.”

A special Rock for Life T-shirt commemorating NPLTD features a color photo of an actual fetus in its mother’s womb during the fourth month of pregnancy, with the question: “Do you really believe this isn’t a baby?”

One pro-choice activist said the Rock For Life message is wrong and dangerous.

“With free speech comes responsibility. If they say a legal procedure is homicide, we have a real problem,” said Jeanne Clark, communications consultant for Feminist Majority.

“In fact,” she said, “the antiabortion forces have heated up so much that doctors have been murdered and kidnapped, nurses have been maimed and patients have been threatened and stalked. It is this kind of language that causes this behavior to [take] place.”

Jatrice Martel Gaiter, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, said her organization “respects everyone’s right to act on their beliefs.” But she said, “what matters most is what is in the hearts and minds of the women facing this decision.”

NPLTD has spread from high schools to college campuses. Homer Brothers, 22, a sophomore at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, said he’ll wear his pro-life T-shirt today.

His goal “is to save as many babies as possible,” Mr. Brothers said. He also wants to “educate people and get them to realize that organizations like Planned Parenthood are killing babies.”

Also participating will be Philip Eddy, 21, who said he was pro-choice in high school, but changed his position after a classroom debate.

“After the debate, I came to the conclusion that the fetus was a baby, and it had the right to life,” said Mr. Eddy, a student at Lancaster Bible College in Pennsylvania.

Jason Jones, director of the Rock for Life program, believes that with NPLTD “many babies will be saved from the abortionist’s knife, and many women will be saved from the lifelong pain of having had an abortion.”

According to Mr. Jones, today’s young activists are “the pro-life generation and with this generation, abortion will end.”

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